Litigation

Yeah, yeah: That title caught your eye.

I thought about titling this column “Litigation Aphorisms,” but who the heck would have read it?

So I went instead with the first of three critical things you should know about litigation, all of which I learned from Neil Falconer when I practiced at the 20-lawyer firm of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco back in the 1980s. (I also dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Neil. He wasn’t a “mentor”; he just accidentally taught young lawyers by osmosis what it meant to be a lawyer.)

Neil’s first aphorism was this: “Never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose.”

Why does that matter?

Or maybe I should start with a more basic question: What the heck does that mean?

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Riddle me this:

Why do you send your emails about our big litigation victories to everyone in the C-Suite, Finance, the Business Leaders, and the rest of the world, with a copy to me, but you send your emails about our big litigation defeats to me alone?

Why do law firm promotional materials always describe recent cases at excruciating length and never briefly offer practical solutions? I might actually read something titled, for example, “Three Policies That You Must Revise Now That The Defense Of Marriage Act Has Been Held Unconstitutional.” (If I received that email, I must have overlooked it.)

Why does your email ask if I’m free at a certain date and time for a meeting without telling me “free for what”? Even if I’m otherwise booked or theoretically on vacation, I’m completely free for the CEO and the Board of Directors. On the other hand, I’m never free for the guy from IT who wants to drone on endlessly about user specifications for the new BPOS platform.

Why do law firms. . .

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Davis Polk: no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Some things haven’t changed at Davis Polk. The genteel, uber-WASPy firm is still a student favorite during on-campus interview season. Perhaps this is because it still puts on a great summer associate program.

At more senior levels, however, Davis Polk is evolving. Under managing partner Tom Reid, the firm is increasingly focused on the bottom line. It’s adding lateral partner talent, which it historically hasn’t done very often, and it’s asking more from its existing partners in terms of business development (and subjecting some less productive partners to, shall we say, heightened scrutiny). It’s offering buyouts — rather generous ones, it should be noted — to reduce the ranks of support staff (and the associated expenses).

The old Davis Polk, prioritizing prettiness and peacefulness over profits, might have quickly and quietly settled a lawsuit with a recruiter, without regard to the legal merits, just to avoid the ugliness. The new Davis Polk, in contrast, won’t go down without a fight….

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On the “Our Professionals” section of its website, Finnegan Henderson boasts that it has “375 lawyers focused on IP.” It may be time to revise that downward: “371 lawyers focused on IP.”

Last night, the high-powered, intellectual-property-focused firm announced four notable partner departures. The Finnegan partners in question practice in the generally hot area of IP litigation (although we’ve heard anecdotal reports of cooling, including stealth layoffs of IP litigators — see here and here).

Who are the departing Finnegan partners, and where are they going?

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What’s the difference between an ATL commenter and an ATL correspondent?

A commenter writes, “Screw you, Herrmann, and the horse you rode in on. And your wife, and your kids. And your grandma. And your cat.”

A correspondent writes a long, thoughtful email, like the one I received from a reader in Rochester, New York, who read my column, “On Tweedledee And Tweedledum, Esq.,” and accused me overvaluing good writing:

“In litigation, while writing is important, it is not paramount. Just as, or more, important are analyzing law and facts and knowing what claims or defenses to assert. Then developing a strategy for discovery – knowing what documents to ask for, where to search, what questions to ask at deposition – none of which requires much writing at all and certainly not great writing skill. Developing the facts – and developing them in a way to help and not harm your case – is often much more important than writing a great brief. Knowing what issues to dispute in discovery and which to cede is important. Negotiating skills are important. Legal research skills are significant. Then, if a case goes to trial, entirely different skills are needed. Using an example from your column, because a lawyer writes an excellent brief does not mean they know how to properly prepare a witness or question a witness. . . . Someone can write with great style and flair but use bad analysis, miss significant facts or fail to find an important case.”

I have two reactions: First, thanks for writing. And, second, maybe yes and maybe no . . .

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a new series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

Patton Boggs, the preeminent Washington-based lobbying law firm, is reeling from a slew of recent events, hinging upon their multi-million dollar litigation with Chevron. In 2010, the firm released a memo entitled “Invictus,” proudly proclaiming their new endeavor: the representation of Ecuador in a long-contested battle over Texaco’s culpability in creating nearly one thousand pits of oil in the jungles of Ecuador — a liability Chevron inherited when it purchased Texaco in 2000 for $36 billion.

But Patton Boggs’s plan to quickly enforce a settlement soon became more challenging than anticipated. Playing hardball, Chevron has continuously called Patton Boggs’s bluffs…

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Tom Wallerstein

Last week, I was having a business lunch at Michael Chiarello’s Coqueta overlooking the San Francisco Bay. (Those who know me won’t be surprised that I managed to combine a business meeting with some good eats. I’ll save my restaurant review for another time, or you can read it on OpenTable.)

Anyway, my lunch was with a partner at Leason Ellis, a thriving IP boutique in New York. The firm is a boutique in that the lawyers are specialists in intellectual property; as far as I know, that is their only practice area. But within that subject matter, they have both a litigation and transactional practice. Conversely, with limited exceptions, my own firm has remained a litigation-only boutique since it was founded four years ago. We handle a wide range of subject matters, but only do litigation within those subjects.

What are the pros and cons of running a litigation-only shop? Why haven’t we added a robust transactional practice as well?

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What should unemployed law school graduates do when they can’t find work and can’t feed themselves? A certain great French princess — although not Marie Antoinette, FYI — might say, “Let them eat cake.”

But not everyone can afford cake. Debt-burdened young (and not-so-young) lawyers don’t want to spend dough; they want to make it.

Perhaps literally as well as figuratively. Do you have some talent in the kitchen? Here’s an inspiring story for you….

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In the dark days of 2009, we had frequent occasion to discuss the difference between “layoffs” and “performance-based dismissals.” Layoffs are generally understood as economically motivated, large-scale reductions in headcount, while performance-based dismissals involve specific individuals being asked to leave for cause. (Some see this as the difference being getting laid-off versus getting fired, although I’ve sometimes heard layoffs referred to as firings.)

The distinction can be a fine one. Unless cuts are made based on factors like seniority or practice area, layoffs often target weaker performers, so they can look a lot like performance-based terminations. There’s no bright-line cutoff, in numerical terms, for what constitutes a round of layoffs. And you can’t let firm characterization control, since many firms find it in their reputational interest to deny layoffs (unless the cuts are so large as to be undeniable; see, e.g., last week’s Weil Gotshal layoffs).

Today we bring you a story that captures this ambiguity. Several lawyers and staffers, totaling a number believed to be in the double digits, have been asked to leave a firm — but the firm denies that it’s conducting “layoffs.” We’ll present the facts and let you be the judge….

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Tomorrow, I’ll be going into a meeting with the folks from finance, and they’ll ask me: “How much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

[Note to accounting purists: We'll assume that we could reasonably win Smith, so liability is not probable.]

To be sure that I have the most informed opinion possible, I call outside counsel and cleverly ask: “How much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

And outside counsel starts the usual spiel:

“Life is full of surprises. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Litigation is like a black box; you never know what’s inside until you’ve opened it, and by then it’s unstoppable.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. “But how much are we going to pay in the Smith case, and in what quarter?”

“Well,” says outside counsel. . . .

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